Monday, December 31, 2007

What feminists don't get

I recently wrote some posts on feminists who become mothers. The idea was to see what happens to the feminist ideal of autonomy when babies start coming along.

There was a very critical response from the feminist women I quoted. Predictably, some of the women argued that I was a privileged male who already had autonomy and wanted to keep it from women. For example, the operator of the blue milk site which ran the series on feminist motherhood had this to say about me:

Only someone with all the autonomy they could ever hope for could possibly suggest so determinedly that others not aspire to it. White male drowning in privilege I think.


She's not alone in holding such a view. There was an entry at the feminist website I blame the patriarchy on the topic of marriage and autonomy. It was assumed in the feminist discussion following the entry that men got all the autonomy they wanted in marriage, whilst women suffered on alone:

I want everything, just like men get to have, except without having an easy life buttressed by inequality.

... Thus, marriage is "work" ... but it is woman who has to do most of it; the dude merely has to show up at the wedding.

... Your Nigel is different, of course, [but] he enjoys a privilege that you will never see for as long as you live. I allude to the privilege of personal sovereignty.


Are these feminists right? Do married men have all the autonomy they could ever hope for? Are they drowning in a privilege they seek to deny to others?

It's not enough just to say that the feminists are wrong; what has to be explained is just how far off the mark they are.

If a man held autonomy to be a key aim in life he would never marry and never consent to an active fatherhood. Marriage and fatherhood lock men into a life of work and responsibility in which there is rarely time or money for a man to do as he pleases.

It's not an easy thing for a man to adjust to and increasing numbers of men appear to be opting out or at least delaying their commitment to married life.

Most men, though, do sacrifice the larger part of their autonomy to work, marry and have children. They do so because of an impulse to find love and a soul mate; because of a sense that becoming a husband and father are the proper "offices" for an adult male through which their lives are completed: because of the instinct to procreate to pass on something of themselves to future generations; and because of paternal instincts to have children to love and to guide to adulthood.

Men are in their natures protectors and so there is a level at which meeting the burdens of fatherhood is a self-fulfilment.

Why do feminists misunderstand men? The answer is that they are thinking ideologically. According to feminist patriarchy theory, men as a class invented gender as a social construct in order to secure the privilege of autonomy for themselves at the expense of oppressed women. Institutions like marriage, according to patriarchy theory, are designed to secure male privilege over women.

So if you're a feminist who accepts patriarchy theory you are likely to believe that men are motivated by a desire for power over women and that marriage secures for men a privilege of autonomy in which, unlike women, they have it easy and can do as they please.

The gap between theory and reality is vast. Patriarchy theory is not a truthful account of what happens in society and it does harm to relations between men and women and to family formation. It's time to put it aside and to look more directly at the lives of men and women.

8 comments:

  1. I was wondering, how can "men" "invent gender"??

    Whoever, or whatever "invented gender" must have done so outside the realm in which it was "invented."

    ... Or is this just another example of "alternative" feminist thought, LOL!

    Of course, the feminist will deny her (its?) own assertion, seeing how ridiculous it is (the assertion, not the feminist...) and then try to backpedal:

    "Oh, actually we mean men were the first to use gender as a system of oppression..." blagh blagh.

    So we move from, men invented it, to, well, not really, only the first to use it in a disapproved way.

    But if gender existed outside the realm of human choice, then the feminists' worldview of radical individualism fall apart.

    Which leads me to my next point:

    My experience debating feminists has been that the first rule of feminist thought is the rules will arbitrarily change when women no longer have a privileged position in discourse.

    The next question therefore is whether there is any point listening to them, or talking to them, in the first place anyway.

    ... anyway, Happy New Year people! See you all in 2008.

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  2. Kilroy, good point. I'll add a similar argument. Feminists tell us that "woman" is a fictive category; yet it is treated as a real and substantial category when it comes to making political claims.

    There's a book called "Conflicts in Feminism" (written by academic feminists) in which this problem in the theory is admitted to and discussed at length. For instance, Ann Snitow writes that:

    "a common divide keeps forming in both feminist thought and action bewteen the need to build the identity "woman" and dismantle its all-too-solid history ... I argue that a settled compromise between these positions is currently impossible"

    She goes on to write:

    "We begin: The category "woman" is a fiction; then, poststructuralism suggests ways in which human beings live by fictions; then, in its turn, activism requires of feminists that we elaborate the fiction "woman" as if she were not a provisional invention at all, but a person we know well, one in need of obvious rights and powers."

    Snitow labels this an "unresolved tension on which feminism continues to be built".

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  3. 'Snitow labels this an "unresolved tension on which feminism continues to be built".'

    I call it intellectual fraud at best, simple bullshit at worst.

    It's amazing how (a) people have fallen for this irrational way of thinking about humanity, and (b) there are whole institutions of learning built about this.

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  4. Only someone with all the autonomy they could ever hope for could possibly suggest so determinedly that others not aspire to it. White male drowning in privilege I think.

    She's insane or stupid. Not sure which.

    You have very ably critiqued her view, Mark.

    Kilroy said: The next question therefore is whether there is any point listening to them, or talking to them, in the first place anyway.

    Probably not.

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  5. Lyl, thanks.

    If I critique feminists it's not because I have false hopes that I'll win them over as individuals.

    One reason I keep arguing is that feminism usefully illustrates some of the larger problems within modernist liberal thought.

    Another reason is that people will eventually forget the damage done by feminism in the 1990s to family formation. There needs to be a principled opposition to feminism in place when it has its next resurgence.

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  6. If I critique feminists it's not because I have false hopes that I'll win them over as individuals.

    One reason I keep arguing is that feminism usefully illustrates some of the larger problems within modernist liberal thought.


    Very good. Keep at it, then. It's very refreshing to read your posts. As well as being obviously well thought out, they are also calm and reasoned in tone. Something one doesn't see often in blogs from either side of the divide.

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  7. Mark - I don't often comment but just wanted to drop you a line to thank you for your wonderful blog. Your posts are amazingly insightful. Keep up the good work!

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  8. Jennifer,

    Thanks for the comment. It's much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete

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